Does Keeping Secrets Make A Marriage Unhealthy?

Does keeping secrets in marriage make it inherently unhealthy? Over our years of marriage, and our years counseling married and engaged couples, we’ve found the answer to be both nuanced and subjective. The truth is, the idea that a couple should never keep secrets sounds and feels good at the surface level–but can a marriage really handle an overflow of transparency at all times?

Many of us grew up believing that there are no secrets in a healthy marriage. We come to believe that spouses should tell one another everything, no matter what–hiding no details and laying everything out in the name of total transparency. But is it truly wise or healthy for us to reveal every thought, feeling, and impulse to our spouse?

If you’re wondering whether keeping secrets can make a marriage unhealthy, the answer is: it depends. Read on to learn more.

Serious Truths Should Not Be Kept Secret, Even When They Hurt

While spouses may not necessarily need to bombard one another with every detail at every turn, we’ll start by reinforcing the fact that serious, painful truths should be disclosed between spouses. If a secret could harm or impact your marriage, then it needs to be out in the open, even when it hurts. Likewise, you must absolutely avoid deceptive behavior.

Some examples of these types of truths include job loss, debt, infidelity, addictions, health diagnoses, and any other information that could damage (or do further harm to) the trust between you and your spouse. Even small, but pervasive behavior patterns can translate into problems if one spouse feels the need to be secretive.

Oftentimes, people keep significant truths secret from one another because they don’t want to do harm. For example, perhaps one spouse loses a job and doesn’t want their husband or wife to know. Or maybe one spouse used shared funds to make a large investment without consulting the other because they didn’t want to experience their partner’s potentially negative reaction. We’ve personally experienced counseling a couple where one partner did not disclose a diagnosed medical condition, and their spouse learned about it only because they found an empty medicine bottle in the bathroom garbage.

Some Truths Are Best Left Unsaid

We believe that healthy marriages strike a balance between being open, respecting one another’s privacy, and speaking the truth in love. Before you let the unfiltered truth flow haphazardly toward your spouse, you need to question whether that truth could cause harm. We like to call this censored self-disclosure.

Some people lean into the idea of being “brutally honest” with one another, no matter how hurtful the result. But when you let the concept of brutal honesty rule your communication with one another, you open the doors to unnecessary conflict in your relationship. Rather than a safe space, your marriage could potentially deteriorate into a warzone.

Other spouses feel the need to say everything that comes to mind, without thinking before they speak. But some feelings and thoughts are fleeting, and don’t last for long. There’s no need to vocalize passing sentiments that could be hurtful to your spouse. In James 1:26, James emphasizes the importance of controlling what you say, and thinking it over carefully before you say it.

Before you speak, ask yourself whether it’s possible to share this truth with your spouse in love, or whether this information might lead to unnecessary distress. Do you really need to say it? Would it be harmful to withhold your thoughts in this instance?

Discuss Expectations and Set Boundaries

You and your spouse probably have different ideas and expectations about honesty, openness, and privacy in your marriage. If you’ve never talked this over with your spouse, it might be beneficial to do so. You’ll want to establish boundaries and expectations that work for both of you as a couple.

Within those boundaries, you can decide what life details you want to share with one another, and what information might be better left unsaid. Are there changes that may affect the level of stress at home? Consider talking about those so no one is left in the dark. On the other hand, you might find that you both feel more peaceful if you don’t go into exhaustive detail about work-related minutiae or the ins and outs of your extended family’s affairs.

Prioritize Trust and Avoid Deceit

The bottom line is this: secrets that involve deceiving your spouse could irreparably harm your marriage. You must both avoid deceiving one another if you want your marriage to be healthy. In order to have a greater measure of appropriate privacy in your relationship, you have to maintain trust with one another. In this way, it’s possible to build a healthy marriage that both respects each spouse’s privacy and maintains trust.

Building a healthier marriage depends not only on your dynamic together, but on your health as individuals. If you need guidance on how to become healthier–for the benefit of your relationships–check out our book, Healthy Me, Healthy Us.

Have you and your spouse agreed on a measure of privacy in your relationship? How did you get there, and how has it impacted your marriage? Let us know in the comments.

3 Comments

  • Michael says:

    This is our second marriage and we have been married for 23 years. I didn’t come to Christ until I was 45 years old. My wife knows a lot about my past and how immoral I was but I have not shared everything from those days. I thought it was to protect her from some of the awful things I did sexual. Am I wrong to have not told her everything. All these immoral things were done way before I married her.

  • Kathleen says:

    The past is just that…past. I feel I shared too much of my past with my husband who now holds it against me for what he feels cheated him out of having a wife who was more outgoing. In my case, it has caused him to drift away and he seems to be using some of my “confessions” to make his case against my personality traits which tend to be more laid back and not aggressive or so outgoing. I wish I could take back all the things I revealed to him, but since “the cat’s out of the bag,” he doesn’t trust me or give me any respect. I’ve tried to talk to him about how that was in my childhood, but he’s convinced that my behavior has been warped by my family dynamics. I’m now considering having a trial separation as a result since he is always questioning my motives, and meanings when I try to talk about my friends or future dream of travel. The stress has also affected my health and he has no real love for me in the way he treats me. Be cautious about sharing any past misadventures as it could lead you down a slippery slope.

  • Susan Kings says:

    To me things of the past should be left in the past buried Nd forgotten we move. I have made such a mistake I mean is not funny Nd I cause the day I told my husband a little of my past Nd it will never I mean never happen again. We always protect their secret with our life but when it come wife they can’t protect it too bed.

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